An edited version of this may be used as a chapter in an upcoming book: Geo-Mutualist Panarchism, Theory and Practice
Three Wise Men
Geo-mutualist panarchism is a complex political and economic philosophy that combines the solutions of three radical libertarian social viewpoints: Georgism, Mutualism, and Panarchism. In order to fully grasp geo-mutualist panarchism, we must look to the originators of each of the philosophies from which it is primarily derived. In the case of the “geo-” prefix, I am speaking of American philosopher and economist, Henry George, from which Georgism, and the shortened geoism, derive their names. Mutualism was a view expressed in the philosophy of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, from France, whose anarchism impacted the early utopian socialist movement. Panarchism was espoused by the Belgian botanist and economist, Paul Emile de Puydt. Georgism focuses on land politics, mutualism primarily on money, and panarchism on social governance. Georgists believe that everyone should have an equal right to land. Mutualists believe that everyone should have an equal right to money. Panarchists believe that everyone should have the right to choose the legal system under which they live.
Georgism is named after the American economist, Henry George. Henry George believed that everyone should have an equal right to the use of the Earth. Henry George was a strong advocate of free trade, and suggested the lifting of taxes, except for those on land rent, which he supported a strong increase in. In other words, Henry George believed that taxing the full rental values of land was all that was needed for a healthy society to function. He believed that land rent taxes could fund all public services, without further taxing anyone’s efforts, such as their goods and services. Because land is not something that people created, it would not disincentivize labor or slow production to tax its rental value, and so public services could be provided for without taking anyone’s earnings or hurting the economy. Taxing land at its full rental value would also disincentivize speculation, and would allow for free land to be homesteaded.
Mutualism was the project of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, French originator of anarchist political philosophy. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon believed that government necessarily came with high costs, such as being controlled. Both a libertarian and a socialist, Proudhon saw government and capitalism as intimately linked. Proudhon believed that if government would step out of the way, and let workers issue their own interest-free credit, instead of giving privileges to state or private banks, that landlordism and wage-slavery would also diminish. Proudhon supported a self-managed workers’ confederation, which would organize production and consumption by way of a mutual bank that provided interest-free loans to its members. These interest-free loans would allow workers to acquire for themselves a means of production, thereby eliminating their need for landlords and employers.
Panarchism was envisioned by Paul Emile de Puydt, a Belgian botanist with a knack for political economy. Paul Emile de Puydt envisioned a political order in which anyone who had the means could form their own society and register it with a common civil registry office, giving the society a sense of credibility in the registry’s network of users. The societies involved could take many forms, internally governmental or voluntary, as the members saw fit. As de Puydt saw it, as a botanist, this would allow for the better societies to develop and flourish, and for the others to be voluntarily abandoned over time.
Of the three main philosophies addressed, it will be Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s mutualism that shines brightest among them. Not only was Pierre-Joseph’s first, the others’ philosophies are derived, in part, from the work of Proudhon. George and de Puydt both acknowledge Proudhon in the following quotes.
What I have done in this book is to unite the truth perceived by Smith and Ricardo with the truth perceived by Proudhon and Lassalle.* I have shown that laissez faire—in its full, true meaning—opens the way for us to realize the noble dreams of socialism.
It is simply a matter of declaration before one’s local political commission, for one to move from republic to monarchy, from representative government to autocracy, from oligarchy to democracy, or even to Mr. Proudhon’s anarchy – without even the necessity of removing one’s dressing gown or slippers.
-Paul Emile de Puydt
While George made great contributions in the way of land politics, and de Puydt in the nature of social compromise, these views are already included in Proudhon’s mutualism to a great extent, though they were not spelled out by Proudhon in the same manner. Proudhon was a fervent supporter of federalism and freedom of association, which implies, at least to some extent, a panarchical arrangement of associations. While he mentions panarchy in his The Principle of Federation, he does so with a differing meaning attached than that of de Puydt, relating it to communism, or total control. This is not what de Puydt intended when he formulated a vision of panarchy, and so the two cannot be related. Instead, we must look at Proudhon’s words, to see that his vision of society was something of a panarchy itself, being composed of voluntary associations of various local flavors. Proudhon said also, that “monarchy and democracy, communism and anarchy, all of them unable to realize themselves in the purity of their concepts, are obliged to complement one another by mutual borrowings.” While an avid socialist, he had no intentions of legally forcing his socialism onto anyone, and made room for others to live as they saw fit, even if it differed. He said,
I protest that when I criticized […] the complex of institutions of which property is the foundation stone, I never meant to forbid or suppress, by sovereign decree, ground rent and interest on capital. I think that all these manifestations of human activity should remain free and voluntary for all: I ask for them no modifications, restrictions or suppressions, other than those which result naturally and of necessity from the universalization of the principle of reciprocity which I propose.
Were there to exist a band of capitalists in Proudhon’s proximity, it would be legally safe, so long as its members were there voluntarily. Proudhon’s anarchism implied a certain amount of toleration for outsiders. However, legal safety is not the same as economic security. Proudhon saw capitalism as inefficient, and believed it would ultimately be abandoned.
Regarding George, there are times when Proudhon suggests that land surpluses should be paid as insurance to those who use worse land, which can easily be understood to parallel George’s sentiments of the single tax.
Let us suppose that an appropriated farm yields a gross income of ten thousand francs; and, as very seldom happens, that this farm cannot be divided. Let us suppose farther that, by economical calculation, the annual expenses of a family are three thousand francs: the possessor of this farm should be obliged to guard his reputation as a good father of a family, by paying to society three thousand francs,—less the total costs of cultivation, and the three thousand francs required for the maintenance of his family. This payment is not rent, it is an indemnity
While Proudhon’s project contains the sentiments of both George and de Puydt to some extent, it also falls short of George and de Puydt’s clarity. George’s treatment primarily regards land and de Puydt’s regards freedom of association, but Proudhon’s treatment of labor suggests an entirely new way of living and working together. Centered on his mutual bank, it has vast implications, such as the end of wage slavery, arbitrary authority, and various forms of social unrest.
Still, Proudhon’s geoistic and panarchistic sentiments were not explicitly detailed in volume. Mixed with his inconsistencies, and the many interpretations of mutualism, history has found it easy to separate the philosophies, without recognizing the similarities in Proudhon’s work. This being so, among other reasons, it has been necessary to adapt the monikers “geoism” and “panarchism” as complementary to my mutualism, as to highlight its important differences. While mutualism is traditionally anarchist, I have taken de Puydt up in his challenge to perform within his larger panarchy, and George in the task of allocating economic rent. This has led to a much more comprehensive form of modern mutualism, which properly treats land possession, and which is capable of tolerating and even cooperating with non-mutualists.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was born to a family of meager means, in the Mouillere suburb of Besancon, France, on January 15, 1809. Proudhon’s father, Claude-François, was an artisan, earning a meager living as a journeyman brewer and cooper. His mother, Catharine, had been born a peasant, and had lived working as a personal servant. Claude-François and Catharine together had five young boys, including Pierre. Two of them died at an early age, but Pierre Proudhon was to retain a strong relationship with his other two brothers, Jean-Etienne and Claude, both of whom were younger.
As a boy, Proudhon worked with his father in the tavern and cooper shop owned by Mr. Renaud’s large brewing industry, learning to brew beer and make caskets of various sorts. He also worked in the fields, doing basic agricultural work. In 1814, Besancon was invaded and bombarded by the Austrians, and the Proudhons’ suburb of Mouillere, existing outside the walls of the Besancon citadel, was destroyed. Pierre’s father established a new brewery in Battant, following the blockade’s aftermath. Proudhon spent some time herding cattle in the Jura mountains, and then taking a job as the cellar boy of an inn. Even artisan-peasant boys get time for play now and again, and Proudhon enjoyed spending time outdoors. He also had a knack for learning, and enjoyed it.
Proudhon was naturally gifted, but was set within circumstances that were uncommon for would-be philosophers. Proudhon was not formally educated, but instead, his mother, Catharine, took a very active role in his education, teaching him to spell words by the age of three. She taught him to read the Bible, which would have a lasting impact on him. According to a friend of Proudhon, and his eventual biographer, J.A. Langlois, his mother was
an orderly person of great good sense; and, as they who knew her say, a superior woman of HEROIC character,—to use the expression of the venerable M. Weiss, the librarian at Besancon. She it was especially that Proudhon resembled: she and his grandfather Tournesi, the soldier peasant of whom his mother told him, and whose courageous deeds he has described in his work on “Justice.”
Proudhon’s mother, dedicated to see her son along his education, arranged a bursary with the help from the family’s former employer, Mr. Renaud, which put him through school. Proudhon was unable to afford books. L.A. Langlois tells us that,
Proudhon entered school as a day-scholar in the sixth class. He was necessarily irregular in his attendance; domestic cares and restraints sometimes kept him from his classes. He succeeded nevertheless in his studies; he showed great perseverance. His family were so poor that they could not afford to furnish him with books; he was obliged to borrow them from his comrades, and copy the text of his lessons. He has himself told us that he was obliged to leave his wooden shoes outside the door, that he might not disturb the classes with his noise; and that, having no hat, he went to school bareheaded. One day, towards the close of his studies, on returning from the distribution of the prizes, loaded with crowns, he found nothing to eat in the house.
The anarchist historian, George Woodcock, tells us further that “Despite the humiliation of being a child in sabots (wooden shoes) among the sons of merchants, he developed a taste for learning and retained it.” Proudhon was autodidactic. L.A. Langlois quotes Sainte Beuve as having said,
In his eagerness for labor and his thirst for knowledge, Proudhon was not content with the instruction of his teachers. From his twelfth to his fourteenth year, he was a constant frequenter of the town library. One curiosity led to another, and he called for book after book, sometimes eight or ten at one sitting. The learned librarian, the friend and almost the brother of Charles Nodier, M. Weiss, approached him one day, and said, smiling, “But, my little friend, what do you wish to do with all these books?” The child raised his head, eyed his questioner, and replied: “What’s that to you?” And the good M. Weiss remembers it to this day.
After some family hardships, Proudhon was forced out of his education, and into the printing trade, wherein he taught himself Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, to be more proficient. He apprenticed at a shop in Battant, before switching to a shop owned by one of his school-friend’s family. This brought him back to Besancon, which was a center of activity for ecclesiastical study. Proudhon studied a great deal of Christian theology, which eventually led to his rejection of Christianity altogether. He became much more interested in social theory than religious theology. At one point during his employment in Besancon, Proudhon had the opportunity to meet the utopian socialist, Charles Fourier, and to directly oversee the printing of Fourier’s books. Conversating with Fourier left a lasting impact on Proudhon. Around a similar timeframe, Pierre-Joseph met and befriended Gustave Fallot, who had been impressed by Proudhon’s proof-reading skills, and sought him out. The two became close, discussing important issues in social philosophy.
After becoming a journeyman compositor, Proudhon was unemployed for a time, traveling and looking for stable employment, until his friend, Gustave Fallot, sponsored his studies in Paris. Fallot would eventually catch cholera, however, being unable to care for Proudhon any further. Proudhon had developed distaste for urban living, and so returned to the solitude of the countryside of Besancon. Though Proudhon was never to see Fallot again, Fallot’s support was a monumental occurrence in Proudhon’s life, and would eventually give him the confidence needed to turn from printing the works of others, to writing works of his own. This boost was not immediate, however, and Proudhon, needing an income, would start a press with a friend. His interest in philosophy and writing was a detriment to his printing business, however, and after the suicide of his associate, Proudhon had to shut down his trade, and focus on his writing.
Proudhon would eventually earn a scholarship to the academy of Besancon. He had already developed a strong distaste for authority, and when the academy of Besancon asked for an essay on the importance of Sunday celebration, he was awarded a bronze medal. He took pride in the bronze, seeing it as a sign that he had made elite academics uncomfortable. George Woodcock tells us,
Proudhon’s country childhood and peasant ancestry influenced his ideas to the end of his life, and his vision of the ideal society almost to the end remained that of a world in which peasant farmers and small craftsmen like his father could live in freedom, peace, and dignified poverty, for luxury repelled him, and he never sought it for himself or others.
Proudhon’s concern for the peasantry and working classes can easily be seen in his first work, What is Property?, published in 1840, in which he made his famous declarations, “I am an anarchist!” and “Property is theft!” It was followed in 1842 by Warning to Proprietors. George Woodcock reminds us that,
This slogan, [“property is theft!”] which gained much notoriety, was an example of Proudhon’s inclination to attract attention and mask the true nature of his thought by inventing striking phrases. He did not attack property in the generally accepted sense but only the kind of property by which one man exploits the labour of another. Property in another sense—in the right of the farmer to possess the land he works and the craftsman his workshop and tools—he regarded as essential for the preservation of liberty, and his principal criticism of Communism, whether of the utopian or the Marxist variety, was that it destroyed freedom by taking away from the individual control over his means of production.
Proudhon is often attributed to being the father of both anarchism and mutualism, but both of these titles are disputable. While not having declared himself an anarchist, William Godwin had preceded Proudhon in his renunciation for government, and similarly criticized the repressive role of property, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, published in 1793. Proudhon was not familiar with his works. Regarding Proudhon’s siring of mutualism, George Woodcock reminds us of a familiar trend in history, of group efforts to be usurped by a figurehead.
In 1843 [Proudhon] went to Lyon to work as managing clerk in a water transport firm. There he encountered a weavers’ secret society, the Mutualists, who had evolved a protoanarchist doctrine that taught that the factories of the dawning industrial age could be operated by associations of workers and that these workers, by economic action rather than by violent revolution, could transform society. Such views were at variance with the Jacobin revolutionary tradition in France, with its stress on political centralism. Nevertheless, Proudhon accepted their views and later paid tribute to his Lyonnais working-class mentors by adopting the name of Mutualism for his own form of anarchism.
Not too long after Proudhon, Herbert Spencer would dispel the myth of the Great Man in history. It’s important to understand Proudhon, not as such a Great Man, but in his actual capacity. Proudhon was certainly brilliant, being one of the few of his age to rise from peasantry to such notoriety that he received special treatment while locked in a cell, but it’s important, for the sake of his own argument, not to understand him as some sort of Christ figure. Proudhon, like all scholars, was a product of his culture. Proudhon’s is a philosophy which exalts the potential of the common person, and to place Proudhon on an altar of his own is to contradict the purpose of his work.
Proudhon continued to write, publishing The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty. He attempted to run a printing press for a short time, before finding employment as a manager with a firm in Lyon, and finally ending up in Paris. The Revolution of 1848 broke out, in which Proudhon participated. He published his own solution, entitled Solution of the Social Problem. In this work, Proudhon laid out a system of mutual banking, which would allow workers to become cooperatively self-sufficient.
Proudhon began to publish articles in newspapers, which boosted his public observance greatly. He tried to establish a popular bank, gaining the support of 13,000 people, most of whom were workers, but did not have the means to carry the operation through. He spent some time in politics, losing an election, but eventually becoming elected to join in on the debates of the constituent assembly. Here he underwent many debates, including those with Frederic Bastiat and Louis Blanc, who sat with him on the Left, and others. When the National Workshops— employment centers for the unemployed, which Proudhon was opposed to, but didn’t want to eliminate until workers could become self-employed— were shut down, it provoked the June Days Uprising. Proudhon went to the barricades himself, being sympathetic to the insurrectionists, but tried to convince them of acting more peaceably. He had become very turned off by the violence of the French Revolution, and throughout his life he remained an advocate of non-violence. This did not keep him from insulting president Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, which would find him imprisoned for nearly three years, before being exiled to Belgium. In prison, he got married, and sired his first son, as well as wrote Confessions of a Revolutionary and General Idea of the Revolution. He was given special treatment, due to his prestige. Proudhon continued to write after he was released. He would return to France after political changes, dying two years later, on January 19, 1865, in Paris.
Fellow Travellers and Followers
Proudhon’s anarchism left quite a wake in the waves of history, with many taking up the moniker after him, or travelling his beaten path. These would include, firstly, the egoist Max Stirner, followed by Mikhail Bakunin, Joseph Dejacque, Anselme Bellegarrigue, Elisee Reclus, and Peter Kropotkin, among others. Anarchism would take many forms throughout the years, from the communism of Joseph Dejacque to the syndicalism of Rudolf Rocker. Like Edison and Tesla, Proudhon had not been alone in his creative activities, but had been produced by a culture in which others lived and contemplated just as well. Long before Proudhon, but unbeknownst to him, the Englishman, William Godwin, had already criticized property and government, and just before Proudhon, the American individualist, Josiah Warren, had already begun work on his projects, which would later be known as individualist anarchism. Josiah Warren’s individualist anarchism, of which Henry David Thoreau is considered a fellow traveler, had a large impact of its own, carried on loosely through such folks as Lysander Spooner, Joshua Ingalls, Moses Harman, Ezra Heywood, and Stephen Pearl Andrews. Those who took up the banner of anarchism, who were familiar with Proudhon, were not always in direct solidarity, but also had plenty of criticisms. These included those named previously: Stirner, Bakunin, Dejacque, etc. It would also include a school of thought developed from one of Proudhon’s largest detractors, Frederic Bastiat, who had greatly influenced Gustave Molinari. This meant that anarchism was never to be a monolith. Those who stood nearest Proudhon, picking up the banner of mutualism, would have mixed relations with the other schools of thought.
Perhaps the best known populizer of the mutualist philosophy, after Proudhon himself, was the American individualist anarchist, Benjamin Tucker. Benjamin Tucker had come to the mutualism of Pierre Proudhon by way of the Unitarian minister, and ex-military officer, William Batchelder Greene, who had himself become an anarchist, and a proponent of mutualism, writing a book called Mutual Banking. Benjamin Tucker had learned of William Greene through his mentor, Ezra Heywood, an advocate of free love, and an anarchist. Ezra Heywood had also introduced Benjamin Tucker to the works of the earlier individualist anarchist, Josiah Warren. Warren had been a student of the utopian socialist, Robert Owen, but had rejected his communal experiments, instead promoting a principle of “cost the limit of price,” based around a labor theory of value. Tucker’s own views resemble a mixture between Greene and Warren.
Greene’s mutualism was similar enough to Proudhon’s that it need not be treated here, but Josiah Warren’s views stood alone. Unlike Proudhon, Josiah Warren was not born into poverty, but actually seems to have had some social privilege. He was no less brilliant than Proudhon, being a talented inventor and musician, as well as a well-known entrepreneur and community-former, but his privilege may not have driven as much dire need as Proudhon had felt living as a peasant in France. His work, while quite admirable, and worthy of all the same regard given to transcendentalists of his era, did not pick up on quite the same implications as Proudhon, though it was based loosely around the same premise. Josiah Warren’s philosophy was largely a philosophy of individualism and pricing; Proudhon’s was a complex societal program, which reconciled the individual and the community, and in which he treated banking and pricing and much more.
Because of Tucker’s promotion of mutualism, in his periodical, Liberty, and its mixture with individualist values, anarchist mutualism can be said to be divided loosely into two flavors. The individualistic variety of mutualism, primarily found in the United States, tends much more toward market exchanges, and less toward association, as it does in France. While mutualism as Proudhon originally envisioned it was not collectivistic, neither was it wholly individualistic, but actually sought to reconcile these values. American mutualism, due to influence from Josiah Warren, tended much more toward individualism, but looked to French mutualism for help with contracts and banking. Tucker, for instance, and many others in the individualist anarchist tradition were soft on employers, and ridiculed cooperative production as inefficient. This was not true of all of the American mutualists, however. Dyer Lum was an American mutualist who was also an avid syndicalist. In Europe, the relationship was switched, with mutualists generally supporting association. The French anarchist, Emile Armand, however, would align himself with the American individualist variety.
One of the major differences between the American and French mutualists may be that the Americans approached mutualism from a liberal mindset, which exonerated property from socialist attacks, while the European mutualists, following Proudhon more directly, came primarily from the socialist tradition, ridiculing property. Much of the discrepancy between the two schools is likely due to the influence of Josiah Warren, who praised property, and rejected socialism. Faced with influence from both Warren and Proudhon, there was a jumbling of terms, but the main concerns remained the same. Mutualists are primarily concerned with eliminating the monopoly on money, and secondly the monopoly on land. Following this, they support various forms of economic cooperation. This can be seen with clarity in the work of Francis Dashwood Tandy, Alfred Westrup, or Clarence Lee Swartz. Today’s most prominent anarchist mutualist thinkers include Larry Gambone, Kevin Carson, and Shawn Wilbur.
Still, we have not fully covered the full breadth of mutualism. There are other currents of mutualism also worthy of mention. Within the tradition, we could loosely include the syndicalist movement, as its figureheads, Georges Sorel and Rudolf Rocker, both spoke highly of Proudhon, and included mutualism in their projects. We could further include the New Mutualism of Oceania and the United Kingdom, such as that promoted by Race Mathews, and the mutualist social movements of Latin America, such as the mutualistas. New Mutualism looks further back than Proudhon, before mutualism was directly associated with Proudhonian anarchism, and finds inspiration in the cooperative and mutualist movements of the late 1700’s, from whom Proudhon himself gained inspiration. The New Mutualism movement works to directly promote cooperatives of various forms, credit unions, labor unions, and mutual insurance programs, which are also found in anarchist varieties of mutualism. It is distinctly marked as being a softer and more reformist approach to mutualism than the mutualism often held by anarchists. The mutualist movement in Latin America took a strong hold in Chile and Argentina, as well as in Mexico. For the most part, these mutualists resembled the anarchists of Europe and America in their concerns and formulations, practicing syndicalism and cooperativism, though they were not always outright anarchist. Like the New Mutualists, other Latin mutualists, such as the mutualistas in Mexico, for instance, often saw mutualism as a social self-help movement, rather than something directly antagonistic to capitalism or authority. They were often marked by social conservatism.
The Philosophy of Mutualism
Mutualism is a dynamic philosophy, with a large range of applications, ranging from decision-making and organizational structure to banking and monetary policy. The very foundation of mutualism, however, can be found in its notion of free contract.
Mutualists believe that individuals or groups should be able to engage in whatever kind of contracts they wish, so long as they are not aggressive in nature. They believe that government has no legitimate right to meddle in the affairs of other people, or otherwise to interfere in their agreements. With the freedom of contract, also comes the freedom of exchange, making mutualism a libertarian philosophy. It is also socialist, however, because mutualists believe the employment contract to be a result of state-sanctioned monopolies, something which would wither away under conditions of free banking and free land. Absent a monopoly on land and credit, mutualists believe that workers would contract to work in associations, such as cooperatives, and to provide for each other in mutual firms. Because mutualism carries both classically liberal and socialist values, it falls into the broader category of libertarian socialism.
Proudhon’s overall vision sees society working as an organic whole, with its competing interests healthily balanced. Such a society would be organized by way of voluntary contract into a agro-industrial federation, as he called it, which would consist of various forms of cooperatives and mutual companies. These companies would be united primarily for the purpose of organizing an equitable system of credit, which would promote and sustain their cooperative activities.
Mutualists propose a system of banking called mutual banking, and a system of currency called mutual credit. The currency would be backed by hard goods of various sorts, such as houses, or by labor itself, and would be issued and redeemed by the mutual bank. The mutual bank, similar in some ways to a modern day credit union, would be a democratic entity owned by its members. It would act as a bank of issue, supplying its members with its own notes, by way of interest-free loans.
The effects of mutual banking and mutual credit would be the matching of prices with labor value. In the terms of Josiah Warren, “cost” would be “the limit of price[s]”. Proudhon used a different phrasing from Warren, to discuss a similar phenomenon, often railing against what he called “the right of increase,” or the right of property owners to collect tribute for renting their property. Josiah Warren and Pierre Proudhon were in agreement; interest, rent, and profit were forms of unearned income, which existed only as expressions of state-enforced monopolies. They could be remedied only by free, labor-backed currencies.
Another of the large issues that mutualists concerned themselves with was the issue of land monopolization. Both Josiah Warren and Pierre Proudhon found this to be a major concern. Josiah Warren intended to enable everyone the means to utilize natural resources, and Proudhon the same. Proudhon spoke of this in complex terminology, in his What is Property?, wherein a distinction can be made between title based on possession-usage and title based on perpetual rights. For many of Proudhon’s followers, especially in Europe, property was a word that was more-or-less synonymous with absentee ownership, while possession implied direct use of the item being claimed. In the United States, mutualists continued to use the word property favorably, taking after Josiah Warren. A follower of both Warren and Proudhon, and an affiliate with Benjamin Tucker, Joshua Ingalls would provide the criteria of occupancy and use, which was more or less derived from the concerns of Proudhon and Warren. The doctrine of occupancy and use holds that these two criterions are the only fair or just standards for holding land. This can become confusing, however, as, though Ingalls was a follower of both Proudhon and Warren, and though Proudhon had also argued in favor of a similar doctrine, Proudhon had also made similar arguments to Henry George and his single-taxers, whom American mutualists, especially, would find themselves at great odds with, despite George’s favorable mention of Proudhon in the introduction to his book, Progress and Poverty.
Henry George was born on September 2, 1839, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to lower-middle-class parents, Richard and Catharine George. Together, Richard and Catharine George had ten children, which put a little extra stress on their otherwise well-off, but non-wealthy, lifestyle.
Henry George’s father was a devout Christian, and publisher of religious texts. An Episcopalian, he sent Henry to the Episcopal Academy. George didn’t take his studies at the Academy seriously, but talked his father into hiring a tutor. He supplemented his formal education with personal studies and lectures at the Franklin institute. Due, in part, to his large family, Henry was the second of his ten siblings who had to end his formal education at a young age, 14.
After working as a clerk for a short period, Henry George decided at the young age of 15 to sail aboard The Hindoo as a foremast boy to Melbourne, Australia and Calcutta, India. He spent a year and a half out at sea. He returned to Philadelphia, and got a job as an apprentice type-setter. After nine months, he had decided to move to San Francisco, California. Here, he got involved for a short time in the gold rush, and followed it up to British Columbia, but faced terrible failure. Despite George’s economic hardships, and arguments from her prosperous uncle, who had also been her legal guardian, he managed to marry an Australian woman, by the name of Annie Fox, and started a family with her. An author writes,
Henry was around 22 years old when he fell in love with an eighteen-year-old Australian girl who was an orphan. He married Annie Corsina Fox by eloping with her in 1861. Annie had just turned into an adult when Henry ran away with her in a borrowed suit. The couple was happy having 4 children, two sons and two daughters.
They lived in poverty for some time, at some points nearing starvation, before George got a job at a newspaper, as a printer. He developed his writing skills, and eventually became a journalist, writing for The San Francisco Times, among other papers, including some of his own. The George family struggled for quite some time, but George’s prestige eventually brought them out of poverty. Agnes George de Mille, George’s granddaughter, writes,
George had the unique opportunity of studying the formation of a civilization — the change of an encampment into a thriving metropolis. He saw a city of tents and mud change into a fine town of paved streets and decent housing, with tramways and buses.
And as he saw the beginning of wealth, he noted the first appearance of pauperism. He saw degradation forming as he saw the advent of leisure and affluence, and he felt compelled to discover why they arose concurrently.
Henry George had had an epiphany regarding land, which came to him first on a horseback ride, on which he stopped to rest while overlooking the Bay of San Francisco. Henry George writes of the experience,
I asked a passing teamster, for want of something better to say, what land was worth there. He pointed to some cows grazing so far off that they looked like mice, and said, ‘I don’t know exactly, but there is a man over there who will sell some land for a thousand dollars an acre.’ Like a flash it came over me that there was the reason of advancing poverty with advancing wealth. With the growth of population, land grows in value, and the men who work it must pay more for the privilege.
Henry George’s experience on that ride had left him forever impacted, and from that point forward, George would look at land speculation as a primary evil in society, responsible for the impoverishment and servitude of workers. One author writes,
The great line of demarcation between the wealthy and the poor was highly criticised by George. He further stated that there was grave injustice in the imbalance of wealth distribution. George explained that natural resources were subjected to restricted access resulting in private profit thus levying high taxations on the actual producers. In his book and in his thoughts George showed how this system of divide created a system similar to slavery. Coming form [sic] a poor family George could asses [sic] the situation very clearly. George was able to point out the growth in living conditions while residing in California. He saw the Californian railroads being constructed which instantly increased land values and rents much faster than the wages were rising.
It seems to have been a trip taken to New York that Henry George’s decided on the theme behind his later published work, Progress and Poverty. On this trip, Henry George was impressed by the great amount of wealth, but was disappointed to see that an area so rich was also filled with so many living destitute lives. Back in California, there was both less wealth and less poverty. He had decided that the imbalance in wealth was due to land monopoly, which had taken from society all of its rewards and created poverty, and which could be resolved by way of a tax on land. Henry George’s single-tax proposals were to be espoused in one of his articles, “Our Land and Land Policy.” George was eventually forced to leave his position at the newspaper, following an argument with one of the creditors of the newspaper.
Henry George entered politics. He started as a Lincoln Republican, but later became a Democrat. He was very critical of mining and railroad interests, political corruption, and land speculation. Needless to say, this did not make him popular with the elite, who overpowered his election campaigns, and ensured his reforms were not set into place. One of his articles, “What the Railroad will Bring Us,” ensured an enemy of the Central Pacific Railroad, whose executive helped defeat George’s bid for election.
Henry George released his masterpiece, Progress and Poverty, in 1879. He started with 500 copies that had published himself, even having done some of the typesetting. After making quick sales, he was picked up by a publisher, and eventually began rivaling sales of The Bible. By this point, George had become a world-renown public figure. Agnes George de Mille writes,
During his lifetime, he became the third most famous man in the United States, only surpassed in public acclaim by Thomas Edison and Mark Twain. George was translated into almost every language that knew print, and some of the greatest, most influential thinkers of his time paid tribute.
George’s fame compelled him to move to New York, where he became involved in Irish nationalism, eventually inspiring his travels to Ireland and Scotland, where land politics had become an issue of the day. He returned to New York a hero of sorts, and was persuaded by a petition of 34,000 voters to run for mayor under the United labor Party. He lost the election, coming in second, just ahead of third-place candidate, Theodore Roosevelt. Supporters of Henry George thought that there had been some sort of fraud in the election.
Also while in New York, and in despite of his wanting to nationalize land and natural monopolies, George had written a strong defense of free trade, called Protection or Free Trade. Following a trip to Austrialia and New Zealand, George’s health started to suffer, but it didn’t keep him from writing, one of his works being a scathing criticism of Herbert Spencer, entitled A Perplexed Philosopher. Attempting a final run for office, despite his poor health, Henry George died on October 29, 1897, in New York.
Fellow Travellers and Followers
Henry George’s philosophy, called Georgism, or geoism, left a strong impact on the populists and political labor movements of his time. Because of George’s focus on land politics, and his resolution for taxing land, coupled with his praise for free trade, Henry George’s followers would be known as single-taxers. The single-tax movement had a comprehensive following, with clubs, charities, and communities forming around the idea. Some attribute the rise of the progressive movement to the efforts of George. His influence can be seen on such brilliant minds as Albert Jay Nock, John Dewey, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Bernard Shaw, Franz Oppenheimer, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and more.
Henry George had not been the first to promote the idea of land value taxation, however. This had been a theme running throughout liberalism after the Enlightenment, which can be found in the works of the English philosopher, John Locke, as well as that of pantheist, Benedict Spinoza, among others, such as the physiocrats, Pierre Le Pesant, sieur de Boisguilbert, and Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban, and, later, the renown economists, Adam Smith and David Ricardo. It would also be promoted in Thomas Payne’s work, Agrarian Justice, in John Stuart Mill’s The Principles of Political Economy, and in early editions of Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics. Henry George, still, had become the largest popularizer of, and most consistent thinker regarding, the idea.
Like Proudhon before him, George’s followers would not always meet him on every issue. While George’s philosophy also treated money, trade, and civil government, his overall impact was mostly in regard to land, and his followers referred to themselves as single-taxers. The simplicity behind the name may have increased the influence of George’s land policy, but it led also to the great neglect of George’s other contributions. Today, Georgism comes in many hybrid forms, as well as those which appeal to George more directly. Some completely ignore George’s proposals that didn’t deal with land directly.
George was a greenbacker, and he opposed both private banking and metal-backed currencies. He felt it to be the government’s role and duty to issue a stable currency. He was opposed to the idea that money had to have intrinsic value, in the way that commodity-money or commodity-backed money does. Instead, he supported notes that retained their value due to being redeemed in taxes and government fees and fines. Mainline Georgism retains George’s basic monetary policy, but there are others who disagree with George, while maintaining his views on land policy. Of these include the contemporary economist, Fred Foldvary, who supports metal-backed currencies and free banking, coming from an Austrian School understanding of money.
While Henry George was an avid supporter of government-issued currency and collection of taxes, there are those who have taken influence from George, while rejecting the role of government altogether. Already mentioned, Fred Foldvary teeters on such lines, having written a paper, “Geoanarchism,” in which he proposes that voluntary communities can be responsible for collecting and distributing land values. Long before Fred Foldvary, a similar idea had been proposed by a fellow by the name of Spencer Heath. Spencer Heath believed that government was the improper instrument for the collection of rent, and instead supported the collection of rent by private landlords, who would use the rent to compete with government, by providing better semi-public services to their tenants than governments do to their citizens. While Spencer Heath supported private landlords, Fred Foldvary seems to be largely in favor of democratic communities, though he is otherwise an avid supporter of capitalism, and doesn’t oppose hierarchy. For this reason, among others, we can understand geoanarchism and Heathianism as two separate, but somewhat related, entities, which stand in contrast to “geostatism.”
Whether anarchist or statist, there are different positions taken in regard to what should be done with land rent once it is collected. Henry George had proposed that land rents could fund all governmental services, but, taking after influence from Thomas Payne, that any surplus collected should be paid back to society, not as a charity, but as a right. This payment to society of land rents was called the citizen’s dividend. While anarchists may be more inclined to dividends than public services, this may not always be the case, so long as the services are provided contractually. While statists may be less opposed to public services than anarchists, there still exist minarchists, who would like to see government’s role reduced to, what they see as, a minimum. What is to be done with the land rents once they are collected provides a split among Georgists. Those who refer to themselves as geolibertarians generally favor more citizen’s dividends, and less public services, while those I’ll label “geoliberal” are contented with smaller dividends and more public services.
It’s not with surprise that Henry George influenced both the libertarian and socialist camps, as well as between. George’s view treats land, labor, and capital as being distinct, and his position on land was certainly held with favor by socialists of his day and after. His free trade position on labor quite contented the libertarians. He was met with mixed feelings in regard to his treatment of such things as capital and money, however. George wanted natural monopolies to be run by the government, sometimes on municipal scales, but he was otherwise a staunch advocate of free trade. Libertarians would ridicule George for his support for state involvement in natural monopolies, as not being consistent with his views of free trade; and socialists would ridicule George for his free trade views and support for employers.
Despite the differences between Georgists, there is a general agreement between them that land values belong properly to the people, and should not be privatized. This has even influenced some politicians to setting land-value taxes into place to some extent, though there can’t be said to exist a true single-tax utopia. Land value taxes rarely, if ever, equal the full rental value of land, and are never the only established tax, but are always found alongside others. While this has kept Georgism from solving the social problem, there is still a small set of empirical evidence that George’s land policies do what he suggested, removing land speculation and idle property to a noticeable extent.
Perhaps the most iconic of George’s waves of influence has been the board game, Monopoly, originally called The Landlord’s Game, and created by a Georgist Woman by the name of Lizzie Magie. The game was designed to demonstrate to children the principles of Henry George’s land politics, and took into mind also his banking policies. Before becoming monopolized itself, The Landlord Game had become a cultural phenomenon, similar to hopscotch, with boards copied from one another in the way children have copied the squares of hopscotch from one another over the years. The monopoly of Monopoly is one of the great ironies of progressive history.
The Philosophy of Georgism
The philosophy of Georgism begins, and for some ends, with Henry George’s treatment of land. Henry George understood land to be a public asset that had been privatized and monopolized. This allowed wealthy landowners and industrialists to have an unfair say in politics, and to rob laborers and employers of their efforts. Henry George believed that a majority of the great advances made through innovation and free exchange had been privately taken and enjoyed by a class of— primarily landlord— monopolists. The land monopoly had resulted in land speculation, land which has held out of use, and allowed to sit fallow, while the owner waited for its value to rise. It offended George to see so much idle land, held for speculation, while so many of his fellow countrymen and women were living in poverty, having no claim to the lands on which they were born.
In order to remedy this, Henry George proposed that the full rental value of land be collected as a tax by government. This, Henry believed, would do many things. Most importantly, it would alleviate the economy from the clutches of monopoly. It would do this by incentivizing the possession of only that land which one was putting to use, and by distributing the rent of the land to society in a more equitable fashion. Land would no longer be held in speculation, and there would be ample revenue to fund government, without having to tax anyone’s efforts. This would ensure an increase in innovation and production, which was the opposite effect of other taxes, such as those on labor or capital. Any amount of rent that was not used to fund public services would be distributed to the public as a citizen’s dividend, which would ensure a certain degree of economic equality.
While Henry George proposed such a tax system, and otherwise advocated free trade, it is both correct and incorrect to call Henry George’s proposal a single-tax. It is correct if one wants to speak this way about a family of taxes, but that’s what Henry George’s proposal really was, a type of tax, not a single form of taxation. While the basis of his tax proposals centered on land, this took many forms. In his concerns for land, George also treats such matters as transportation and right-of-way, as well as water and mineral supplies, among others. In Georgist terminology, land is simple-speak, which actually refers to all natural resources, including water, minerals, space, and the ecology of an area. Each area of George’s concern regarding natural resources was to be treated separately, but under the same general premise that natural resources are a common asset. For this reason, it may be better to regard Henry George’s proposals as a set of taxes, rather than a single-tax. However, as these taxes are all grounded in the same concern, and are remedied in much the same way, it is not entirely improper to suggest that these constitute many forms of one, single-tax.
Aside from his proposal for land-value taxation, George’s monetary theory stands out most. While some Georgists have rejected his monetary views, or have tinkered with them a bit, others are more-or-less contented with George’s original proposal. Henry George made a strong distinction between money and goods. Goods, as he saw it, maintained a value due to their ability to be consumed. This role was not necessary of money, which had value due to being able to facilitate exchanges. George saw no need in money having intrinsic value, but only redemptive value. This was not unlike the mutualists, except George would have money printed and redeemed by government in tax payments, rather than voluntarily provided by a mutual bank. George was opposed to metal-backed currencies, such as gold and silver certificates. He also made a distinction between credit and money: credit had preceded money. While George was a proponent of credit, along the lines of the Real Bills doctrine, he also made a strong criticism of the expansion and contraction effects relating to credit, which he did not see as an issue with government-supplied currency. Today, Georgist monetary views range, with some taking influence from the Austrian school, Keynesianism, or other sources, such as monetarism, which some have incorporated more-or-less into a traditionalist Georgist understanding of money. Recently, there has also been much interest in the post-Keynesian approach to money, called modern monetary theory, or MMT.
Henry George helped to usher in the progressive era, and did not stop at his land and monetary proposals. George, again like the mutualists, was opposed to intellectual property. He supported the suffrage of women, and even went further to propose a women’s house in Congress. He opposed political corruption, and promoted, quite successfully it seems, the use of the secret ballot, as well as campaign finance reform and political spending restrictions. He also supported public transportation and libraries. While many of these views are held today by Georgists, many also diverge, some being entirely discontented with George’s willingness to use government to set his ideas into place. Much of the criticism on this end comes from a tradition which was arguably expressed first by Belgian economists, Gustave Molinari and Paul Emile de Puydt, and later in the work of Austrian economists.
Paul Emile de Puydt
Paul Emile de Puydt was born to a comfortably well-off family on March 6, 1810 in Mons, Belgium, to Jean Ambroise de Puydt and Marie Michot de Puydt. Jean Amroise had served as governor of a province in Belgium, called Hainaut, beginning when de Puydt was twenty years of age, and lasting four years. De Puydt’s father had also been married prior to meeting Paul Emile’s mother, a relationship which gave him six children, Paul Emile’s older half-siblings. One of these siblings, Remi de Puydt, seems to have gained some degree of public attention as a civil engineer, politician, and military colonel. Jean Ambroise would marry Marie, Paul Emile’s mother, giving him another four children, of which Paul Emile was the second to be born.
After his studies had ended, de Puydt spent some time as a journalist and an editor. With friends, he eventually produced a theatre piece. Eventually he started to participate in government, and had secured himself a position as the director of Mount of Piety, a pawn broking operation that acted as a charity. De Puydt had a passion for botany, especially for orchids, and established himself as quite a well-respected botanist, putting out multiple editions of his works. His surname, de Puydt, serves as standard botanical author-based nomenclature, and names the species he analyzed and described. He had also authored a few novels. He eventually took as position as a secretary at the Society of Horticulture in Mons, and later became vice-president, and then president, of the Hainaut Society of Arts and Letters. In 1841, Paul Emile would wed Fanie Catherine Cousin, with whom he had two children.
Aside from his novels and botanical works, de Puydt had also written on matters of political economy. Most famously, he wrote a paper called Panarchy, wherein he demonstrated his desire for a society wherein people could choose for themselves, without moving, the form of government, or even non-government, they wanted to live under. De Puydt specifically mentions Proudhon and his anarchist project in his system of panarchy, as a potential competitor in the economic competition between social systems. The anarchist, Max Nettlau, writes,
One will feel closer to his idea if one replaces in one’s mind the word “government”, which he always uses, with “social organization,” especially since he himself proclaims the coexistence of all governmental forms up to and including “even the AN-ARCHY of Mr. Proudhon”, each form for those who are really interested in it.
De Puydt would also write work dealing with charitable institutions, the progress of civilization, and the relationships between morality and the arts. He died in Mons, Belgium, on May 20, 1891.
Fellow Travellers and Followers
Unlike Proudhon and George, Paul Emile de Puydt never seemed to see any real economic hardships in his life. When he writes of hardship, and deals directly with the matter, it is by way of charities, which necessarily place him on the giving end. Unlike the peasant, Proudhon, or even the lower-middle-class born George, who had also faced hardships as a young worker, poverty had not touched de Puydt personally. It was his soft hearted nature alone that drove him to address social and economic issues, and he did so as somewhat of a philanthropist, it seems. This being so, de Puydt’s philosophy was much less likely from the start of appealing to the masses in the same way of Proudhon’s ridicule of the monopolization of capital, or George’s derision of the land monopoly. De Puydt necessarily approached the matter of political economy as an outsider, at least as it would be held in the views of the working classes. What good would being able to start one’s own government do, if one lack the resources to do it? The largely-socialist workers of de Puydt’s age would not have latched on with near the ferocity of that of Proudhon’s mutualists or George’s single-taxers. Indeed, George and Proudhon themselves had a hard enough time appealing to the workers with notions falling short of full collectivism. This being the case, de Puydt would not leave as much of a splash as Proudhon or George, though his contribution would be remembered, and revived by those looking for solutions to the social problem, including those from socialist and anarchist backgrounds.
Paul Emile de Puydt was not the first, not even from his own country, to promote the idea of governments competing for citizens within the same territorial area. It seems the first to have spelled the idea out in detail may have been Gustave de Molinari, in his paper, The Production of Security. In a similar manner to de Puydt, but eleven years before him, Molinari suggested that security could become a marketable good like any other, and become subject to the demands of the market. As he saw it, this would be drastically more efficient than monopolistic government, and so was likely to outgrow it. De Puydt was likely familiar with Molinari. Molinari’s approach is not quite the same as de Puydt’s panarchy, however, though they are both related. The main difference is that de Puydt proposed an office be used, which would register the competing governments, called a civil registry.
In some senses, the notions behind panarchy were also implied by the project of Proudhon, although Proudhon approached the situation from the bottom, up, rather than from the top, down. Proudhon’s anarchy was a uniting of cooperative interests, while de Puydt’s panarchy was selective and not entirely inclusive. Proudhon’s anarchy was more universalistic, while de Puydt’s panarchy was particularist. However, Proudhon understood his own unitive anarchism as necessarily developing from competing interests, and de Puydt understood his selective panarchy could eventually lead to mass agreement about what is best. In a strange way, anarchism and panarchism can be understood to be striving toward the same thing, though from different angles and interests.
There is not much to be found in the way of de Puydt’s immediate impact. Of the earliest I am aware to mention him, was the anarchist historian, Max Nettlau, who wrote an article, called “Panarchy: A Forgotten Idea of 1860.” More recently, panarchy has been revived by father and son, Kurt and John Zube. Others, such as Richard C.B. Johnson, an economist from Sweden, and Michael Rozeff, a finance professor from New York, Le Grand E. Day, a writer in California, Aviezer Tucker, a professor in Alaska, and Swiss thinker, Bruno Frey, are some of the latest to fly the same banner, or walk a similar path, as panarchy.
The Philosophy of Panarchism
A panarchy is an intersocietal arrangement in which multiple providers of civil codes and services, registered with a common office, compete for customers. One can imagine a panarchy as a political situation that is much like the situation of churches today, each having their own doctrines and manners of governance, but with members living in mixed neighborhoods, each subscribing to their own choice. In a panarchy, one can choose one’s government in the way one chooses their church, or any other services, without having to move away. The idea of panarchy originated from the paper, so called, by Emile de Puydt, but has since lacked the same attention that the other philosophers previously mentioned, Proudhon and George, had gotten. Unlike Proudhon’s anarchist mutualists, and George’s single-taxers, Paul Emile de Puydt never gained such a following. Neither de Puydt himself—so far as I am aware—, nor others to come immediately after him, have expanded on his project, working to give it definition. Still, this might be for the better, for much of the beauty in de Puydt’s Panarchy is in its simplicity and nonpartisanship.
One gets the sense that de Puydt himself was a libertarian, clearly influenced by market economics, and wished to apply market exchanges to matters of social governance. This is what puts his project in direct affinity with the liberal anti-statism of Gustave Molinari.
Paul Emile de Puydt has little to say in his essay on Panarchy about money, public services, etc. but one must presume that all of these will be taken care of by the government chosen to provide such services, in the manner most satisfying to its customer base. Much of the idea behind competing governments within overlapping jurisdictions, is that if governments— or equally sovereign entities— have to compete for citizens, they must do so by providing services to them. While a citizen may agree to the right of such a government to tax or subdue them in certain circumstances, it would not be an infringement on their original voluntarism. As de Puydt saw it, almost paradoxically, freedom had to include within it the right not to continue to be free.
De Puydt, instead of waiting to win elections, and thereby forcing ideas onto others, was much more interested people doing the work to create their own governments economically from the bottom up, and seceding from those with whom they disagreed. He entertained the notion that the competition between governments may lead to such an increase in quality, that everyone may choose the same one. So long as it comes from the free agreement of people, de Puydt sees no offense in such an end.
I was born on May 14, 1985, in Carson City, Nevada, to comfortable, though not wealthy, parents, Kirk and Cindy Schnack. My father and grandfather shared some entrepreneurial activities, my grandpa actually being quite wealthy, having been a surgeon and a pilot, and an investor in various activities, most of which I probably have never heard of. My mother, a strong-willed and very capable person, came from a poverty-stricken background, her family having to camp at times in order to survive. She had lived a hard life.
From a young age I took a strong interest in zoology and history, especially, being a young boy, the history of warfare. Reading on these subjects entertained me quite some bit as a child. I never much cared for school, however. Anything I was forced to read, and especially fiction, I rejected as having little to no practicality in my life. If it had value, why was I being forced to read it, rather than seeking it out, from the success I have seen it bring to others? These are the sorts of questions I would wonder. I asked my parents to pull me out of school, to which my father, likely correctly in the state we were living, replied that if I didn’t go to school, the government would take me away. Needless to say, this didn’t ring out as logical to me, and contradicted all of the other things I had been told, about living in “the land of free,” and how proud I should be to be an American. “How is this the land of the free,” my childhood mind reasoned, “if I have to go to school?” Today, as an adult, I only wish more thought like I did as a child.
This attitude only became inflated when I was introduced to punk rock, while I was living in Arkansas, as a middle schooler. I had previously liked some select country and rock songs, but, overall, music bored me. I didn’t get it. Punk rock, however, had an element of realness that was missing in other music. The singers touched on social issues, and groups like Anti-Racist Action and The Positive Youth Foundation set up tables at punk rock festivals. Between the groups and the musicians, there was an obvious dislike for authority, which appealed to me greatly. Bands like Crass, Propagandhi, and Aus-Rotten, for instance, as well as some of the zines I received at the booths I visited, promoted the idea of anarchy. At first, I thought it was just shock material, as many of the punk bands resorted to shock value for entertainment purposes. Becoming interested in my new chosen lifestyle, as a punk, as well as the accompanying aesthetic, I soon attached myself to the anarchy symbol. Soon enough, I would be declaring myself an anarchist, knowing little to nothing about the actual philosophy, but knowing I disliked authority. Discussions on the internet convinced me otherwise, for a short time, and I experimented with liberalism, libertarianism, and communism. Anarchism always stuck with me, though, and after reading Benjamin Tucker and Peter Kropotkin, I had solidified my anarchism. No longer were the circle-As I would scribble meaningless rubbish, but they actually had a long, rich, and impressive history. Better yet, one that really resonated with me, and continues to do so today.
As soon as I could— in part inspired by a Crimethinc pamphlet, “Dropping Out”— I dropped out of highschool. If not for my anarchist philosophy, I would never have done this, but my mindset at the time had solidified confidence and courage in me, that I otherwise would not have had. I had no interest in getting rich, because I had learned that getting rich was always something that occurred at the expense of others. Formal education represented the means of gaining privilege to exploit others. It was also disinformation. I had also lost all interest in school and directed education, preferring to study and decipher truth on my own. Perhaps most importantly, I had given myself value, and started to believe in my own potential, a potential which authority had always tried to stifle, knowingly or not.
When I became a legal adult, I got an apartment, and moved out with my girlfriend at the time. This part of my life represents the complete solidification of my anarchism, as it represents a high point in my young adult, self-directed education. By this point I had joined the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and considered myself largely an anarcho-syndicalist, with preferences toward mutualist economics, a position I would hold for quite some time. I would organize with the IWW for some six years or so, establishing a local General Membership Branch with a few friends, and being elected delegate. I eventually talked my girlfriend at the time into “salting” a corporate coffee house, after I had failed to get hired there. This led to the first Starbucks Workers’ Union in Texas, which was part of a larger, international campaign at the time. Not long after, I would resign from the IWW. This was in part to my criticism of majority rule, and the inability to charter our local branch while using consensus, but also because I felt the IWW to be somewhat restrictive in its focus. All it took was a harsh breakup to solidify my decision to resign, and to focus my efforts elsewhere.
Since my time in the IWW, I co-founded The Black Cat Collective, a general-purpose mutual aid association, and its affiliated People’s Arcane School, a peer-instructed school of philosophy, science, and mysticism. In my organizations, I have engaged many in the consensus process, have inspired many to step into leadership roles they otherwise would not, have set up many public events of various sorts, hosted many educational workshops and classes, and started a literary journal and a lending library. On my own time, I have written many essays, given many public talks, and instructed many classes. I continue to do so.
While I believe I am the first to have put geo-mutualism and panarchism together into a comprehensive whole, I am much less confident in saying the same of geo-mutualism more simply. This is both because of fellow travelers who came long before me, as well as due to a contemporary, Jock Coats, who seems to have beaten me by just a short time in coining the term.
I first became aware of Jock Coats after having published an essay on my blog, “Interest and Premium: A Geo-Mutualist Synthesis,” wherein I thought I was the first to bridge the two antagonistic schools. While I just may have been the second to use the term seriously, it was soon pointed out to me by my new Georgist allies that Jock Coats, an Englishman, who had served for some time as Oxford City Councilor, had already coined the phrase. Jock, it seems, had coined the phrase after a bout with Henry George, but would eventually reject it, in favor of mutualism, more simply.
Long before Jock Coats and myself, there were already folks travelling down the paths cleared by both Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Henry George. Perhaps the most important of these include Silvio Gesell, a German merchant, and Ralph Borsodi, an early “back-to-the-lander.”
Silvio Gesell would take great influence from both Henry George and Pierre Proudhon, synthesizing their work to a great degree in his political program of Freiwirtschaft, which means free economy. In his work, The Natural Economic Order, Gesell would propose a Georgist system of land, which he referred to as free land, and a system of money, called free money, loosely inspired by— but as Gesell saw it, greatly improved from— Proudhon’s efforts. Gesell’s free money had an innovative new characteristic: It expired. Gesell had applied a system of demurrage to his currency, a fee for its use, which would keep idlers from speculating on money. This was similar to the way George had solved land speculation.
Ralph Borsodi had been inspired by both Henry George’s land reform ideas, and the alternative currency views of many of the individualist and mutualist anarchists, such as Josiah Warren, Benjamin Tucker, and Laurence Labadie. Borsodi is perhaps best known as the founder of the community land trust movement, which applies the principles of Henry George to joint property, voluntarily. Along with Ralph Borsodi’s community land trust schemes, he created alternative forms of credit, to allow homesteaders to start their lives in the communities he founded. Borsodi’s non-profit institution, The School of Living, does great work to this day.
Gesell and Borsodi were not alone in their mutual influence by George and Proudhon, they are simply the most important to focus on in this work, as Gesell’s system of demurrage, and Borsodi’s land trusts, will feature quite prominently in geo-mutualist economics, as they are presented in this work. Also sharing the influences of George and Proudhon, or at least mutualism, are Borsodi’s contemporary, Bolton Hall, as well as Borsodi’s modern heir, Bill Mollison, famous for founding the Permaculture movement. Long before Gesell, Borsodi, Hall, and Mollison, the Russian anarchist of Christian persuasion, Leo Tolstoy, held the work of both Proudhon and George in high regard. A work by Fred Schulder, associated with the American individualist or mutualist tradition, called “The Relation of Anarchism to Organization,” touches briefly on land, suggesting Georgist elements among anarchists. Currently, Thomas Greco, Jr., a proponent of mutual credit, also has favorable things to say about panarchy and Georgism (himself having been a member of Borsodi’s School of Living).
While not necessarily fellow travelers of the philosophy of George or Proudhon, because they have been an influence on me more personally, but have not yet been mentioned, and as I am to construct a comprehensive understanding of geo-mutualist theory and practice, it is necessary to bring a few more influences to the table. Firstly, it is without a doubt that the organizationalist strain of social anarchism, especially as expressed by way of Russian revolutionary Nestor Makhno’s platformism, and German anarchist Rudolf Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism, has had a large impact on my approach to anarchy and its establishment. I have envisioned geo-mutualism as nothing more than the economics behind a highly complex and modern industrial workers’ democracy. It is here also necessary to mention, however quickly, the influence of Gustav Landauer’s folk communalism on me, which provided me with an anarchist affirmation of the organic community. Next, but just as briefly, the distributism of G.K. Chesteron, with its criticism of coercive federalism, and its promotion of the principle of subsidiarity, has been of influence. Probably more than any of the so-called anarcho-capitalists, Samuel Edward Konkin III has been of large impact. While others, such as Molinari and von Mises, have inspired me as well, Samuel Edward Konkin had a populism about him that set him quite apart from the others. In many ways, Konkin’s agorism—the idea that gray market exchanges can evolve society past the state— resembles the mutualist project, even seeming to promote egalitarian associations at times. Still, he took much unneeded influence from others in the so-called anarcho-capitalist camp. In some senses complementary to G.K. Chesterton, and his love for the small, the permaculturist, Bill Mollison, has been a large impact on me, and has influenced my ecology. Perhaps my most recently impacting influence has been Keith Preston, whose concept of pan-secessionism, while also quite frightening, has become a beacon of hope for this once-young anarchist.
The Philosophy of Geo-Mutualist Panarchism
Geo-mutualist panarchism describes a society in which people have fair access to land and money, and have the ability to choose the legal system under which they live. Its primary influences are Henry George, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, and Paul Emile de Puydt— whose coordinating philosophies combine to name the approach—, while taking further influence from others, such as Josiah Warren, Silvio Gesell, and Ralph Borsodi, to name a few.
Geo-mutual panarchists take a panarchist position on social governance, believing that every individual or group has the right to decide on its own legal system. An individual or group’s choice of legal system is to be applied only within their own boundaries, which are expected to overlap in many cases. This is similar to the manner in which one chooses one’s church. One’s neighbors may go to completely different churches, or none at all. There is, however, an agreement to non-aggression and fair regard.
Geo-mutual panarchists take a Georgist position on land, believing everyone to rightfully hold the right to the use of the Earth. Unlike Georgists, geo-mutualists do not refer to land collection as taxes, but, taking after Proudhon, are anarchists, and taking further inspiration from Ralph Borsodi, support the collection of land values by land trusts, as dues. Rather than land-value taxes collected by government, geo-mutualists support dues paid to a confederation of cooperatively-managed land trusts. Geo-mutualists do not believe force to be necessary in the collection of land rents, but fully believe in the power of labor-banks, controlling the labor market, to take control of the economy at large, eventually subsuming land and capital into its cooperative control. Geo-mutualism is expected to be established in a completely voluntary and non-aggressive manner. Rather than seeing Georgism as antagonistic to occupancy and use, geo-mutualists believe Georgism provides the best means of defining the right to such occupancy and use.
In regards to banking, geo-mutual panarchists believe that everyone has a right to the means of exchange. Geo-mutualists would provide everyone such a right, firstly, by way of a member’s dividend—similar to George’s citizen’s dividend— paid to those who live on low-rent land. It would be the duty of those living on high-rent land to provide services to these others, in order to acquire their money to make their own rent payments to their land trust. While shifting economic rent to the dispossessed, this would not provide enough currency for a healthy economy. The rest would be issued in the form of mutual credit, whereby anyone could monetize their collateral or future labor. This would be done through a mutual banking confederation, which would issue its members loans, to be repaid without interest. In order to stabilize the currency, and to prevent speculation on money, demurrage is to be applied to all money which has faced a loss in the value of its basis, and a seigniorage payment paid to those whose collateral has gained in value.
Geo-mutualism itself would include within its program a concern for cooperative management of enterprise, mutual organizations for the provision of social services, and more. However, when panarchism is applied, these microeconomic aspects, while not forgotten, are not pressed in the beginning stages. The reason for this is that geo-mutualist panarchists understand such microeconomic conditions relating to the cooperativization of workplaces, and the mutualization of municipal services, to be effects of larger macroeconomic conditions already laid out in the program of geo-mutualism (namely fair access to land and credit, and freedom in one’s associations). This being the case, geo-mutualist panarchists don’t have to explain their whole worldview to others, but simply must appeal to them on the issues of free credit, free land, and free association. This allows geo-mutualist panarchism a degree more flexibility in its relation with external ideologies, than geo-mutualism alone would have, with panarchism neglected.
While most mutualists, due to their rigid ideology, find it hard to work with others who truly aren’t as pure in their anarchism, such as anarcho-communists or anarcho-capitalists, geo-mutualists understand that some changes come about tacitly, rather than explicity. In other words, instead of arguing with anarcho-capitalists about worker self-management, or anarcho-communists about freedom of exchange, geo-mutualist panarchists are free to focus on action involving macroeconomic tools that both have unifiying potential between these antagonists, and which will actually force development into the microeconomic patterns geo-mutualists favor anyways. If approached with plans of pan-secessionism, such as that promoted by Keith Preston, geo-mutualist panarchists have tools readily available to make inter-organizational work possible. While neither capitalists nor communists will be ecstatic about adopting traditionally mutualist or Georgist solutions, if they are truly serious about establishing either capitalism or communism, they will have little choice but to find middle ground between one another to fight a common enemy. This middle ground can only be found in geo-mutualism, which promises all parties fair access to land and credit, and thereby provides a sense of security. Geo-mutualist macroeconomics would allow for both capitalist and communist societies to exist within its boundaries, to the fullest extent. However, the relations between these communities would be geo-mutualist, each community securing its boundaries through mutually-beneficial rent payments, and settling disputes, and possibly even trading, with mutual currency. This is referred to as henocentric law. Unbeknownst to both capitalists and communists, upon adopting such a system, pressures are set against the workings of their preferred ideologies, and toward a more thoroughly geo-mutualist economy, complete with cooperative enterprise, more local land trusts and mutual credit systems, and mutual provision of social services.
 Proudhon once said, according to friend and biographer, J.A. Langlois, “My real masters, those who have caused fertile ideas to spring up in my mind, are three in number: first, the Bible; next, Adam Smith; and last, Hegel.”
 I do not regard Heathianism to be a proper form of anarchism, any more than I do other forms of anarcho-capitalism, or anarcho-communism. It is my opinion that mutualism provides the true basis of anarchy.
 I still hold the IWW in high esteem, especially as a historical organization.